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The Path to Purchase: A Customer’s Journey

Updated: Oct 22, 2019

When a customer purchases a product, most people see this as the end goal. The importance of “the sale” is so highly regarded that the sales guys are usually seen as the rock stars of the company with marketing as the humble sidekick who takes less credit. 


However, that “sale”, is just one step in a sequence of decisions a customer goes through. Now we’re not downplaying the importance of sales here. Sales will forever be vital to the bottom line of a company. What we are trying to say is that in order for customers to get to the sale in the first place, they must first go through each of the steps in what is known as The Path to Purchase. The Path to Purchase is a marketing model that has been around for more than a century in different forms. 

The most popular model is the AIDA model developed by Elias St. Elmo Lewis in 1898. For those of you who were asleep during marketing class, AIDA is simply an acronym that stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. These were the steps proposed by St. Elmo that a typical customer goes through before making a purchase decision. The concept is a solid one and it is still relevant in today’s marketing landscape. 

A more modern take on the Path to Purchase model was developed by the consulting firm Mckinsey & Company. They propose that the path to purchase is circular with four phases. 




As marketers, we need to understand the customer’s journey and how he passes through each phase (as described by Insignia, a US-based in-store marketing solutions company) before making his decision. Having a strong marketing strategy for each of these four phases largely determines who will win in the so called “battle of the brands “


Phase 1: Needs and Wants



The path to purchase begins with identifying a need to satisfy. It could be anything, from basic human needs (e.g. food, clothing, and shelter) to more psychological and fulfilling needs (love, prestige, and creativity). Once a need is determined, and a product is created to serve that need, marketers must now create a demand through advertising channels. Customers can’t want you if they don’t know you exist. 

Now this is accomplished in a variety of ways. You can advertise with traditional media (print, broadcast, and billboards) or new age media (social media, email, and mobile). Whatever channel you choose, the goal is the same: become the top of mind choice among consumers for that specific product category. 

To accomplish this monumental feat, marketers must know exactly who their customers are by developing a customer persona. This is an image that represents the people whose needs they are trying to satisfy. Once a solid customer persona is developed, they must create a connection with them both online and offline. Find out what their potential customers are interested in, what websites do they go to, where do they hang out, what do they do for fun. Successful marketers develop a strong presence in all these aspects of their target market’s life so that when the time comes to make a purchase decision they are more likely to remember you.


Phase 2: It's All About Choice